40% of transfers lose all credits

Nearly 40 percent of transfer students get no credit for the courses they’ve already completed, according to a new federal study by the National Center for Education Statistics. On average, they lost 27 credits, nearly a full year of college. The average transfer student lost 13 credits.

Transfer is common. Of more than 18,000 students who began in the 2003-2004 academic year, 35 percent changed schools at least once.

Only a third of students were able to transfer all their credits, notes Jon Marcus on the Hechinger Report. Students with high grades were the most likely to have their coursework counted.

As many as 31 percent of transfer students who lost credits didn’t report their previous courses to their new college or university.

The federal government now requires institutions to post the criteria they use for determining whether to accept transfer credits, and several states—fed up with the additional cost of students churning through the public higher-education system without getting degrees—have enacted policies to make credit transfer easier, including common course numbering systems and standardized general-education requirements.

Students who transfer from community colleges to state universities keep 90 percent of their credits, notes Community College Daily.  Articulation agreements are working, said Kent Phillippe, associate vice president for research and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges.

In Kansas and Missouri, community colleges have worked with universities on detailed transfer agreements and transferable course lists, writes Mara Rose Williams in the Kansas City Star.

The Kansas Board of Regents lists 46 general education courses accepted by every four-year school in the state system. The University of Missouri has a list of agreements with each of 16 schools.

Counselors make sure students take the right courses. “A student knows if they take a course at KCKCC it will transfer to any Kansas four-year” school, said Michael Vitale, a vice president at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

U of Arizona wants more transfers

The University of Arizona is trying to increase community college transfers, at the Board of Regents’ request.

Over the last four years, UA has averaged 1,229 transfer students annually from state community colleges. The goal for 2020 is 3,000.

UA is negotiating agreements with individual community colleges on which classes can transfer to the university. Since October, the UA has increased its agreements with Pima Community College from 29 to 146.

Why get an associate degree en route to a bachelor’s?

Community colleges should encourage students to earn an associate degree before transferring, writes Davis Jenkins on Completion By Design’s blog.

More than 80 percent of new community college students intend to complete at least a bachelor’s degree, he writes. However, only a quarter eventually transfer to a four-year college or university and, of those, a third of transfers complete an associate degree first.

A Community College Research Center (CCRC) study compared community college students with similar characteristics who had earned 50 to 90 credits before transferring. Students who’d earned a transfer associate degree were 77 percent more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree within four years, and 52 percent more likely to earn one within six years.

. . . students who transfer in with an associate degree are more likely to have taken a structured set of courses leading to a degree in a program of study, and thus may have had an easier time transferring their credits. The students who transfer with 50-90 community college credits but no degree are more likely to have taken a “hodgepodge” of courses that are difficult to transfer, leading to delays in bachelor’s completion.

The loss of community college credits upon transfer is endemic across the country and, as a recent national study found, is the biggest barrier to bachelor’s completion for community college transfer students.

Community colleges should guide students “systematically and explicitly” into programs of study that lead to an associate degree, Jenkins writes. “Currently, community college students are faced with a bewildering array of courses and programs, and as a result they often make suboptimal choices.”

Completion by Design colleges are creating transfer pathways that will let students transfer with “junior standing in a major (rather than with credits that transfer as electives).”

Making the transfer dream a reality

Eighty percent of community college students say they plan to transfer and earn a four-year degree, but most never make the leap, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Only 15 percent will earn a bachelor’s degree in six years. Now the “push is on to propel students past community college.”

Glenda Sorto knew she wanted to go to college, but as she started her senior year of high school, that’s about all she knew. “I’m the first one in the family to go to college, so pretty much it was all me to figure it out,” says the Salvadoran immigrant, who arrived in Virginia as a fifth-grader.

Four years after finishing high school, she had her bachelor’s degree in hand – largely because counselors from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) helped her stay on track to transfer all her credits to a nearby state university after earning her associate degree.

Sorto was an early participants in NOVA’s Pathway to the Baccalaureate, a partnership of local K-12 school districts, NOVA’s six campuses, and George Mason University, a selective campus in Fairfax, Virginia.  The program appears to be helping students — many of them from low-income minority families — stay in school, transfer their credits and complete a degree. 

“It’s a hugely important issue,” says Joshua Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute, a policy group in Washington. “We can’t reach either the equity imperatives or the degree-production imperatives if we don’t solve the transfer issue.”

Only 40 percent of would-be four-year graduates will transfer, according to a City University of New York study. Whether they go on to earn a degree depends, in part, on whether they can transfer all their credits and apply them to their majors. 

“The transfer process has a lot of leaks in it,” because decisions about credits are typically made at the department level of each university, says Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. This often-inefficient system “is just nuts,” she says.

About two-thirds of states have “articulation” agreements that are supposed to clarify which credits will be honored by state universities. But the agreements aren’t always honored, sats Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia. 

More than 20 states – including Florida, California, and Virginia – guarantee associate-degree graduates a seat in state universities with status as third-year students. 

Some community colleges have partnered with nearby state universities to help students transfer with their credits. For example, DirectConnect to UCF has helped 28,000 students transfer to the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Nearly 17,000 of them have come from Valencia College. Associate-degree graduates are guaranteed admission. UCF set up space on Valencia’s West and Osceola campuses where students can “meet with advisers, fill out transfer paperwork, and in some cases even earn a bachelor’s degree on-site.”

In response to the rise in student mobility, many states are making it easier for students to transfer college credits, reports the Education Commission of the States. Improving transfer policies is especially critical for low-income and non-traditional students, who typically start at a community college.

Lost credits hurt transfer students

Lost credits make it difficult for community college transfers to earn a bachelor’s degree, concludes a new City University of New York study. The more credits earned but rejected by the four-year institution, the less likely a transfer will graduate.

Students who start at a community college with hopes of earning a bachelor’s are less likely to reach their goal than similar students who start at a four-year college or university. The study estimates a 17 percent graduation gap for full-time, traditional-age students. The usual suspects — inadequate academic preparation and community colleges’ vocational emphasis — aren’t the primary factors, the authors write. Community college students don’t “cool out” on their desire for a bachelor’s degree. Nor is it true that community college students receive lower aid levels after transfer. For the most part, it’s the lost credits, the CUNY study concludes.

Six-year outcomes by starting institution type (Source: National Student Clearinghouse)

Fifty-four percent of community college transfers would earn a bachelor’s degree, if not for lost academic credits, researchers estimate. Currently, only 45 percent complete a four-year degree in four years.

“Loss of credits is a tax on transfer students,” CUNY researcher David Monaghan said.

Eighty-one percent of community college students say they plan to transfer and earn a four-year degree. But only 42 percent of BA-intending students actually transfer.

The average full-time student takes 3.8 years to earn a two-year degree and 4.7 years to get a four-year degree, estimates Complete College America. The average student earns 80 credits for an associate degree that requires 60 and 136.5 for a 120-degree bachelor’s degree.

Retaking courses costs time and money, reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed

“About 14 percent of transfer students in the study essentially began anew after transferring,” according to the paper. Fewer than 10 percent of their community college credits were accepted. A majority — 58 percent — transferred 90 percent or more of their credits. The remaining 28 percent lost between 10 and 89 percent of their credits.

To avoid transfer hassles, community colleges in more than 20 states now offer four-year degrees, typically in vocational fields. California legislators are considering the option for the state’s 112 community colleges.

A new report on college completion from the National Student Clearinghouse estimates that 36.5 percent of students who start at community college will complete an associate degree in six years, while 15 percent will complete a four-year degree. Completion rates are much higher for exclusively full-time students and traditional-age students.

How to earn a low-debt bachelor’s degree

Starting at a community college will cut the cost of a bachelor’s degree, but students have to be savvy to make it work, writes Lisa Ward in the Wall Street Journal.

Transferring credits can be be “complicated and confusing,” she writes. Students and parents should research whether their state has coordinated community college and state university credits.

For example, California, Louisiana and Texas guarantee admission to a four-year state university to any student who earns an associate degree at an in-state community college. Florida has the same guarantee for an associate of arts, but transfers will need high grades and prerequisites to get into popular majors at prestigious schools.

Some states, including Texas and Florida, use the same numbering system for community college and state university courses. Psych 101 is the same at every school, making it easier for students to know which credits will transfer.

Hybrid degree programs also help transfers earn low-cost bachelor’s degrees.

 Houston Community College and University of Texas at Tyler designed a program where students can earn an associate’s degree in engineering from HCC and then enroll at UT Tyler, as long as their grade-point average is 2.5 or higher. The program sets the student up for a bachelor’s degree in mechanical, electrical or civil engineering.

“It costs $19,000, for all four years, if you live in-state,” says David Le, who is enrolled in the program. “No one ever believes me when I tell them how cheap it is,” says Mr. Le, who lives at home because the program is taught entirely at HCC’s campus.

Earning college credit in high school also cuts the cost of a degree. Most schools offer Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses that enable students to earn college credit. Increasingly, students can earn credits through “dual enrollment” or “early college” classes, which often are taught by community college instructors.

“In many cases, dual enrollment and early college are the absolutely cheapest way to earn college credit because it’s free,” says Dilip Das, assistant vice provost at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

29% are on completion track

How Full-Time are “Full-Time” Students? asks a Complete College America a policy brief. Not very. Students who take 12 units a term are considered full-time — they’re eligible for full federal aid — but 15 credits are needed to stay on track for graduation.

Four percent of students seeking two-year degrees graduate in two years the report points out. For students seeking four-year degrees, the on-time graduation rate is 19 percent.

Only 29 percent of community college students and 50 percent of four-year students are taking 15 or more credits per semester. That means many students — even those who think they’re full-timers — will need an extra year or two to complete a degree, even if they choose all the right classes and pass every one.

The University of Hawaii’s 15 to Finish campaign, which raises awareness about the advantages of truly full-time enrollment, has raised the number of truly full-time students. Retention rates are up 22 percent.

Complete College America also is advocating for “banded” tuition. That would ensure that taking 15 credits per semester costs no more than 12.

In addition, states should cap credits needed for degrees at 60 for an associate degree and 120 for a bachelor’s, the group suggests.

Udacity: Online pass rates are up

Udacity’s online partnership with San Jose State was suspended because of low pass rates in for-credit classes in its first semester. Pass rates improved significantly over the summer, exceeding on-campus pass rates in statistics, algebra and programming, but falling short in psychology and entry-level math, writes Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun.

Learning from what didn’t work in the spring, Udacity changed some of the course content, Thrun writes.

We added hints for challenging exercises, and we added more course support staff to assist with online discussions and communications. We also changed the pacing methodology, informing students earlier and as part of their course experience when they were falling behind.

Enrollment was opened to anyone who wanted to try. Only 11 percent were California State University students. Half of the summer students already held a college degree and only 15 percent were high school students. In the Spring Pilot, half the participants were high school students (mostly from low-income areas) and half were San Jose State students.

Earning college credit was not the leading motivation, students said.


“Few ideas work on the first try,” Thrun writes. Udacity will keep working to improve the courses, especially in remedial math, which had the weakest results.

Faculty doubt quality of online courses

Professors are skeptical about the quality of online courses, especially MOOCs, according to Inside Higher Ed‘s Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology.

Only one in five think “online courses can achieve learning outcomes equivalent to those of in-person courses.” However, professors who’ve taught online (30 percent of respondents) were much likelier to say online courses can be just as effective.

And while even professors who have taught online are about evenly divided on whether online courses generally can produce learning outcomes equivalent to face-to-face classes (33 percent agree, 30 percent are neutral, and 37 percent disagree), instructors with online experience are likelier than not to believe that online courses can deliver equivalent outcomes at their institutions (47 percent agree vs. 28 percent disagree), in their departments (50 percent vs. 30 percent), and in the classes they teach (56 percent vs. 29 percent).

Asked to rate factors that contribute to quality in online education, whether an online program is offered by an accredited institution tops the list for faculty members (73 percent), and about 6 in 10 say that whether an online program is offered by an institution that also offers in-person instruction is a “very important” indicator of quality. Only 45 percent say it is very important that the online education is offered for credit, and about 3 in 10 say it is very important whether the offering institution is nonprofit.

Most professors want to make sure faculty members control decision-making about MOOCs and that accreditors review their quality.

Of professors who’ve never taught an online course, 30 percent say the main reason is because they’ve never been asked.

Geoff Cain offers time-saving tips for teaching online at Brainstorm in Progress. He’s also got advice for online students.

States link aid to credits earned

Every year states hand out $11 billion in college aid — usually without tracking whether students earn a degree. That’s changing, according to the Hechinger Report. Some states are linking student aid to progress toward a degree.

In Indiana, 40 percent of aid recipients complete a four-year degree in six years. Next year, aid recipients will be required to complete 24 credits a year to get aid for the next year. Those who complete 30 credits or more will get an additional $600 a year in aid at public colleges and universities and $1,100 more at private ones.

In most states, state aid runs out after four years of study, but many students don’t look ahead. And when the aid stops, they go into debt for a fifth (or sixth) year — or drop out.

Nationally, less than 58 percent of students at four-year universities and colleges graduate within six years, aaccording to Complete College America. Only 14.3 percent of degree-seeking students at two-year colleges earn an associate degree within three years.

 Paradoxically, many state financial-aid programs pay for a maximum of 24 credit hours annually – 12 per semester – which isn’t enough for a student to reach the 120 credits typically needed to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. Thirty percent of full-time students at four-year universities and 72 percent at community colleges take even fewer than that and quickly fall behind, Complete College America reports.

In West Virginia, 70 percent of financial aid recipients who are required to take 30 credits a year earn a degree in six years, compared to 48 percent of all the state’s four-year college students. Similar pilot programs are showing signs of success in Louisiana, Ohio and New Mexico.

There have been similar proposals to tie federal financial aid to graduation rates by forgiving federal student loans for low-income students who graduate within four years, rewarding students with larger grant amounts for taking at least 30 credits per year and requiring students who drop out to pay back the government for any grant money they received.

Critics warn struggling students might fail if forced to take more credits.